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NCAA Drug Guidelines Facing Scrutiny After Footballer Barred From Play

By Roger Malespin (photo/istock/smileitsmccheeze )

With all the positive news for the legalization movement over the past year or more, it can be easy to forget that there are still outdated and unfair rules in some of our institutions. Earlier this week, a high school football star who lead his team to the state championship game was told that he is ineligible to play for the NCAA because he takes cannabis oil for seizures. 

CJ Harris, a standout strong safety for the Warner Robins Demons at Warner Robins High School in Georgia, was diagnosed with epilepsy in his sophomore year after suffering his fourth seizure. Harris tried several treatments for his condition including pills, but it wasn’t until he took cannabis oil prescribed by his doctor that his seizures stopped completely. Since starting the cannabis regimen in January of 2017, Harris has not had a single seizure. 

Harris is so good at his position that he received a walk-on offer from Auburn university - the college he always dreamed of playing for. Everything seemed to be in line for this young man to realize his dream until the NCAA reviewed his medical records and discovered the cannabis oil. Officials promptly withdrew their offer citing the NCAA policy of not allowing players to have any THC in their systems.

For those who don’t know - tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the part of the cannabis plant that induces the high. cannabidiol (CBD) is the other and from which most of the medical benefits are derived. The cannabis oil Harris takes is less than 0.3% THC, not even close to the amount that would produce a psychoactive effect, but the NCAA thus far seem to be sticking to their guns and not allowing him in. 

The incident is starting to pick up steam on social and mainstream media. Phil Gattone, president and CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation said "We urge the NCAA to review their existing guidelines on THC and explore possible exceptions to allow players under medical treatment, like C.J., the ability to fulfill their dreams of playing college football. We hope the NCAA would reconsider their decision and assess C.J. on his character and talent as a football player."

CJ’s father Curtis had similar thoughts, saying "You're taking something away from a kid who's worked so hard in his life to get there, and you're just taking it away because he's taking a medication that's helping with his disability."

As of now, Harris has to choose between giving up the only medication that allows him to play, or give up his dream of playing NCAA football. He can still play for junior college or NAIA but he shouldn’t have to - he belongs in the NCAA and the only thing stopping him are outdated laws based on the reefer madness era of marijuana in the American conscience. 

This is a story all of us should follow. The same thing holding CJ Harris back from his dreams is the same thing holding untold thousands of sick people and responsible smokers from what they deserve. Social media can be a powerful tool, so anyone who can post or tweet about this story is helping to bring it to the attention of more news outlets. With enough pressure, it’s possible that the NCAA can review and revise this archaic rule.